Laurent Koscielny emerged as one of the best defenders in the Premier League with a standout 2011-12 campaign. The defender, so often maligned because of the horrendous mix-up with Wojciech Szczesny in the Carling Cup final, became Arsenal's best defender after a season of sparkling displays. He was ever-present in Arsenal's lineup, making 42 appearances, and was rewarded with his first French cap, as well as a call-up to Laurent Blanc's preliminary squad for the European Championships this summer. Koscielny not only played centre back with a variety of partners (Vermaelen, Miquel, Mertesacker, Djourou, Song and Squillaci (!)), but he also ably filled in at right back when both Carl Jenkinson and Bacary Sagna went down with injuries.
Ted: Laurent Koscielny took a giant step forward this year, after a Premier League freshman year that was pretty hit or miss. The thing about Koscielny is that he has all the physical tools--he's incredibly fast, he tackles well, and he's got a good leap. The trick for him is knowing how to put all of them together and developing even more of a sense of physical presence. We've seen him make some incredible tackles under pressure, ninja-style, we've seen him score goals (including the one that sealed third place), and we've seen him do a tremendous job of marking one vs. one. He's not completely polished yet though; often he is beaten in the air, and he's still a little overly aggressive positionally at times. Nonetheless, he's nearing the top tier of Premier League defenders, even if he's not quite there yet. In partnership with a more positionally sound defender like Per Mertesacker, where he can just cover in behind and mop up, there's no reason Koscielny can't excel.
Aidan: I unreservedly love Laurent Koscielny. I thought he was far-better than given credit for last season, especially as he was playing only his 2nd season of top-flight football. This year, though, he's been amazing. He's always been excellent at tackling and nicking the ball away from opposing strikers, but this year, he's added excellent positional sense to his game. At times last season, he could be too aggressive, but this season he's been able to curb this aggression, which is why he was able to be in a successful partnership with two very different defenders: Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker. He's also very quick, and kept a lot of good strikers in his pocket this season. Not only that, but he's also had several brilliant runs this season; I remember a Lionel Messi-esque run against Manchester City in December, and a brilliant run and one-two with Alex Song that won Arsenal a penalty in the Cup against Aston Villa. In terms of Arsenal's most important players, Koscielny is on the podium with Robin van Persie and Mikel Arteta.
Thomas: Arsenal's defense this year was...inauspicious. It wasn't really Bad, but it certainly wasn't Good, and a lot of the time when the midfield collapsed (which was relatively frequent), three of the four defenders at any given time were in poor help positions, leaving one man to stand alone against the tide. That man...was Laurent Koscielny. Am I being overdramatic? Yes, definitely - Koscielny was not Arsenal's only good defender this year, and he wasn't perfect. But time after time, he saved the day, whether through speed, or a timely block, or just sneaking in at the last moment to nick the ball away from an attacker who probably had no idea he was even there. A lot of the time he looked like a hockey defenseman in a really bad penalty kill, stemming the tide alone as Certain Other People made poor tackles and ran out of position for no good reason. Koscielny showed flashes of possible greatness last year (Barcelona and Messi likely remember his face), but they were far more consistent this year. He has the potential to be world-class; whether that will be realized is something we'll see over the next few years. But right now, he's a ninja who scored the goal that got us in the Champions League, so he gets some dap from me.
Grade: Gold Star
Paul: Laurent Koscielny is probably not a person that the casual soccer fan will know - if you mention Arsenal to someone who knows soccer but doesn't really follow the English game much, they might know van Persie, and they might know that Henry played for them at some point. But if you say that Laurent Koscielny is one of the best defenders not just on the team but in the league, you'll get a blank stare and a shrug, if that. I'm the guy that loves defense - I love a good pitchers duel in baseball, I love a 1-0 hockey game that features stellar goaltending, and I could talk for hours about my love for the Adams/Keown/Bould/Winterburn Arsenal back line. Just typing that last part of that sentence makes me feel all happy. So I love, love, love Kos - he rarely puts a foot wrong, he's got pace and strength, and he was possibly the only Arsenal player to emerge with credit from the Milan game (at least until he left with an injury). It's fair to say I'm a big Kos fan, and I think he and Mertesacker can be a huge part of a newly rejuvenated rock-solid Arsenal defense next season.
What say you, good reader? How do you feel about Mr. Koscielny?